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Williams Benches Himself as Punt Returner

Heading into last Saturday’s 34-24 loss to No. 5 Alabama, No. 7 Virginia Tech appeared to have a dangerous punt return threat. Ryan Williams, with shiftiness and vision, seemed poised to break out.

But on his first attempt at returning a punt, Williams fumbled the ball. After that, Williams told coaches not to use him as a return man because he was uncomfortable fielding punts. In fact, he said, he never really felt comfortable at that spot.

It is unclear if Williams, a redshirt freshman, will be back at the position. On Saturday, Jayron Hosley was inserted to field punts and gained 11 yards on one return.

“They wanted me to go back in and I just didn’t feel comfortable enough,” Williams said. “With Jayron back there, he did it all through high school. It would be cool having me back there because of my open-field advantages and things of that sort, but if I’m not comfortable and it’s not second nature catching the ball, I’m not going to put my team in that position.”

That seemed surprising to some who had seen Williams during the summer. In an instrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 15, Williams returned a punt for an 82-yard touchdown that showcased his agility and deft open field running.

After that scrimmage, he said: “I love making people miss. Punt return is the best thing right there. You want to be in all the field, make all the moves you can.”

But he did not look like the same player on Saturday. Late in the first quarter, Alabama’s P.J. Fitzgerald punted to Williams from the Crimson Tide’s 43-yard line. Williams settled underneath the ball at the Hokies’ 16-yard line but it fell through his arms. Alabama’s Brian Selman recovered at that spot.

The Crimson Tide turned the mistake into points. Kicker Leigh Tiffin nailed a 32-yard field goal to put Alabama up, 9-7, with 3 minutes 5 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

After the game, Williams said he was not nervous and sightlines of the Georgia Dome’s ceiling had nothing to do with the dropped ball. In practice, he said, he did not feel comfortable fielding punts but thought it would develop. After muffing his first attempt against Alabama, he did not want to take any more chances and took himself out.

“I’m not going to say never,” Williams said, “but until I start feeling like it’s second nature like running back, I’m going to step away from put return.”

By Mark Viera  |  September 7, 2009; 12:09 PM ET
 
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Comments

Gee, and this uncomfortableness could not be discerned in spring practice or the entire month of August? For goodness sakes no wonder Coach B wants a "preseason" game...he can't get the team to a level of game preparedness like the elite college teams we want to join.

Posted by: retiredUSN | September 9, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

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